Sunday, March 24, 2013


photos from and

YOU know what they say in fiction, where there’s no conflict there’s no story. And you know what they say in public relations, negative publicity is better than no publicity at all.
     These two axioms seem to escape the campaign of two of my candidates. I have been campaigning on my Facebook wall for the senatorial candidacy of Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Risa Hontiveros, if only because they are two of my chosen candidates that need the boost, being not yet in the top 12 of the most recent surveys. I do this, aware though I am that their image seem too clean, and therefore not that relatable to people. It’s possible they’d lose.
     Empathizing with the people, it’s easy to relate to Loren Legarda—the mataray face that rarely sports a smile. There is ready conflict in that face alone, seeming to say by itself, “I am a fighter.” Theres that other fighter on the Senate floor easy to relate to, Alan Peter Cayetanofierce, sublimely sardonic, who can mix feigned respect into his arguments. It’s also easy for the masses to relate to Chiz Escudero—talks with nary a comic flair, robotic in his legalese, but all in relatable Tagalog, never mind if much of that legalese is beyond the average voter-fisherman; there’s all the flavor of conflict in his stance alone, defensive and offensive at the same time; the triangle rift with Heart Evangelistas parents could help him further his bid if managed well. It’s easy to relate to Nancy Binay, even. Daughter of a father constantly chided by a colonial mentality for wearing that dark skin, survivor of many an allegation of corruption, consistent organizer of rallies on Erap’s behalf. It doesn’t matter if it’s true the daughter is running on and in the fathers behalf, it’s still him, and there’s ready conflict in that position alone, whether you like it or not. There’s also a ready conflict in JV Ejercito’s name, son of a man beloved by the masses for his defiance of all protocol imposed by a worldly world, a man deposed by a "more corrupt" Gloria Arroyo.
     My candidate Risa Hontiveros, on the other hand, is being wrongly sold, merely as maganda, which doesn’t count for much even to Miss Universe juries. Jun Magsaysay’s story, meanwhile, is a seemingly forgotten story. There is no conflict behind the face anymore. For my two candidates to win, they have to be jerks. That’s why it would serve Hontiveros’ campaign abundantly if the Church starts hitting her personally. It would serve Jun Magsaysay’s campaign abundantly if defenders of the Fertilizer Fund Scam starts maligning his name now.

photo from

TO be called nothing is to be insignificant. To be called an asshole or a jerk presupposes haters. And where there are haters there are defenders. An asshole or jerk tag, therefore, signals conflict, and conflict reboots people’s attention to issues of evil and good, right and wrong, heroism and villainy. The “asshole” or “jerk” comes out to the majority as either a champion or an enemy. To come out as an enemy is to lose in a campaign; but at least one lost in a fight, not in a non-fight.
     In short, like Loren Legarda, it’s not important to enumerate the wars one will fight for, though that would be a bonus or necessary for a springboard, but it’s important to project the aura that you are fighting, or defending, or offending. Not simply smiling.
     The art of politics is the art of projecting a story of conflict. The art of being a politician is the art of projecting the face of a fighter, the face of a jerk. It is no wonder that even in art, the greatest of artworks are often politically incorrect. Because art is primarily concerned with itself, its own art. The cause of the art often overpowers the cause of a thematic cause. But the correct thematic cause within an artistic cause is always a bonus, especially after a win.

BUT there are two kinds of jerk-ness.
     As a social liberal, I’ve often come across the complaint that within social liberalism’s campaign of virtue and empathy and sympathy, some social liberal celebrities turn out to be unworldly assholes. Impressions like this come, of course, after one such social liberal celebrity’s stumbling into a large mistake (whether true or not) that starts to show tragic flaws in his person on mainstream media, certain disappointing flaws that qualify his asshole-ness to conventional wisdom, flaws which mainstream media could in turn embed into an encyclopedic definition of this “asshole”’s sensational image, perhaps permanently waylaying too his boring heroic social liberal achievements into the dustbins of memory.
     One example of this victimization by achievement-dustbinning is that one done on the person of John Edwards, a US senator who fought long and hard for the popularization of the concept of universal healthcare (along with housing vouchers and universal college education) as an agenda for US legislation even before Barack Obama became a US senator. We know of course what happened to his media-managed story, and what he has come to be known as now. An ass. The problem media had with his jerk-ness was the disconnect they read into his espoused causes and what he later “did to his wife.”
     Some leftists would also include the true compassion for the poor in Che Guevara as belonging to this roster of victims of Western media pigeonholing, he whose image has been handled by American rightist media—or so those leftists would aver—to revolve around certain Cuban executions alone. The problem media had with his jerk-ness was the biased disconnect they read into his espoused objective and what he had to do to the enemies of the state, never mind if the West itself did the same to its outcasts, mostly blacks.
     The problem with social liberal jerk-ness is it’s passive and tagged, requiring lots of explanation. There is the other kind of jerk-ness, the managed jerk-ness, often associated with false progressives, although any political bent can appropriate this approach.
     Unlike the social liberals whose flaws are observed and hyped by the enemy, false progressives traditionally flaunt their character flaws as hallmarks of ordinariness to which the masses must (and often do) relate. In short, they manage these flaws in the media to gain the applause of the masses’ own, as if their flaws are proud reflections of the masses’. One could say that their argument is full of bread and circus, an ongoing argumentum ad captandum aimed at duping the object of their treachery by pretending to be on their side in a pre-defined conflict with a pre-defined elite.

photo by Associated Press, linked from

NOW, I’m not going to illustrate my characterization of the asshole and jerk (social liberal or otherwise) further with names from the political arena, these names often being with a following cloaked in the diaper of confirmation bias, talk about whom—therefore—would lead us nowhere rational.
     Let me talk instead about two chefs, embroiled in a seemingly similar contrast of positions in 2011, as a metaphor for what I mean by jerk-ness that presupposes conflict, which consequently raises the bar of any contest.
     In mid-2011, famous chef Anthony Bourdain, still streetwise but well-loved enfant terrible of food television, added another name to his roster of named worst chefs, this time the equally famous and well-loved Paula Deen. Bourdain called Deen most dangerous to America for her unholy connections with evil corporations, all the worse because shes proud of the fact that her food is f---ing bad for you. His reactions main gist was contained in this clause: “I would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it is OK to eat food that is killing us.” He finished up with a painful punch: “Plus, her food sucks.” One would have thought that that last sentence was all he really wanted to say.
     This time, however, he got a target who fought back. Said Deen: “Anthony Bourdain needs to get a life. You don’t have to like my [and those others’] food . . . but it’s another thing to attack our character. I wake up every morning happy for where I am in life. It's not all about the cooking, but the fact that I can contribute using my influence to help people all over the country. In the last two years, my partners and I have fed more than 10 million hungry people by bringing meat to food banks. She added, I have no idea what Anthony has done to contribute besides being irritable.
     Many food writers, while conveying their admiration for Bourdain’s TV show and personality, sided with Deen on this latest exchange—after Bourdain’s last word on a tweet that went: “Resolved: Next time Im asked (for the millionth time) who the worst cooks on Food Network are, Ill just shut up. Who cares?”
     The food nation was divided.
     At the outset, Bourdain did come off as an “asshole,” as some comments put it, sounding quite unfair in implying Deen has been a major contributor to Americans’ obesity problem, though that statement could have been positively taken as simply in cognizance of Deen’s broad fandom, a fandom who seems to be worshipful of her fatty, fried foods dipped afterwards in mayonnaise heaven. Was Bourdain being envious?
     On closer examination, however, since we might find it hard to connect Bourdain’s rant with Michelle Obama’s campaign to reverse childhood obesity, we may glean a simple elliptical point in this latest Bourdain sardonic grunt.
     You see, many food writers missed Bourdain’s point when they failed to review his own record with beurre blanc dips and fatty foie gras. And they seemed to have been taken in by Deen’s argumentum ad captandum, wherein she dangled her connection to food banks as her bread and circuses recipe for applause against Bourdain’s merely chain-smoking, punk rock-loving enfant terrible image that seems to constantly hate the majority’s good taste even while celebratory of their street taste. Understandable, yes, considering food writers are not trained like political scientists to accept the fact that champions of mass behavior are themselves posited in a sort of rebel’s ivory tower stance (in defense or in offense).
     That was sad, because—for one—every time Bourdain says something philosophical on his show or in his books, its always with a tongue in cheek, albeit substantive with allusions. Sad, likewise, because media might have noticed those times when he’s totally serious, as when in the throes of a (to him) rarity, sentimentally enjoying fatty chicharrones with pan de pais in a Puerto Rico small-town plaza. If media had taken the time to review his record, though of course I am speaking from a position of perfect hindsight, they would have seen the reason why he has earned the love of many—he has been one Ramones-loving “jerk” of a champion passionate about empowering peasant food” in their purity, beyond the apostasy and sacrilege of fusion. He praises local food because of their local-ness, not their bastardized here-from-there-ness. Taking note of that significance, they might have been able to conclude that its possible it wasnt really those other chefs (that he named worst) that he hated, hed easily be Emeril Lagasses friend tonight after being the enemy yesterday, but the corporatizations of food around them, including those food idealizations espoused by Food Network.
     So, that said, we cant and mustn’t take Bourdain seriously and literally on any sudden Jamie Oliverian concern about fat’s popularity, or any sudden un-Bourdainly rally for healthy haute-ness for that matter, knowing him to be that ongoing champion of much unhealthy stuff that he now seemed to be rallying against. Those unhealthy stuff he’d raised like flags before include the ever-No Reservations-popular foie gras, accompanied by such delights as, say, Quebecs cheese-heavy poutine, that pop up every now and then in his shows. As for his supposed hatred for “corporatization,” it must be clarified likewise that he has been a staunch defender of Ferran Adrias recipes using such corporation-churned products as Smint.
     So, lets keep it all in context from now on. The Bourdainene thesis is: pure peoples food versus culinary bastardizations and simplistic fusions by importation. When he imports, he makes sure he doesn’t bastardize, even when he attempts variations. Therefore, when he says “I dont like your piña colada, its so unhealthy and bad,” he really means that this corporate invention is no better than crappy corporate cheese by Kraft that needs a Ferran Adrian artistic doing-over to be acceptable to an un-duped people who’ll be paying for it. Hed preach against promoters of obesity like Deen while praising a coconut-water flavored roasted pig in Bali, its lard dripping, for the same reason. Food integrity.
     Its not what the kid says, its what he means, then. Hes that kind of a jerk, that sort of “peasant food”-championing asshole that the food media couldnt, at least for a couple of weeks, connect to a food thesis.
     Now, having said that, clarifying things on Bourdains behalf which seemed to require a lot of explanation, let me say now that I doubt that Bourdains rant would have discouraged many a Bourdain fan from his shows. It might even be safe to say that his fans will remain his fans whatever the hell he says to offend others. In fact, I think the only moral one could derive from this brouhaha is with the fact that non-fans of the man got interested in what he was talking about, some getting interested in what he really meant to say, if only to see whose side they could side with. One would have thought, were he running for political office, that this jerk-ness was all managed.

PARENTS teach their kids not to be jerks.
     A friend of mine once ranted over a just-transpired experience with an (to her) asshole, “Why did God create assholes? I know they’re where shit come from.”
     But, then, of course, there are assholes and there are assholes. And the good thing about them, all sorts of them, is they actually liberate us from our own stupid shit. Theyre something to be thankful to God for, since it is, after all, by their mere existence that we are able to churn out revolutions from our guts. We begin to discuss right and wrong, good and bad, left and right. A conflict of views ensues, and a real contest is instigated.
     But sadly, presently, if the poll surveys are to be our mark, it seems that Jun Magsaysay’s having been an asshole to the Fertilizer Fund Scam’s backers and defenders and Risa Hontiveros’ being a female jerk to the RH Bill-hating male-managed Catholic Church (“they must respect the separation between Church and State”) have already been so quickly pigeonholed as soft by media, thus into the dustbins of short-term memory. The resultant on their media image has been different from John Edwards’ (realigned) or Che Guevara’s (biased). In contrast to, say, presidential sister Kris Aquino’s image after her public dramatizations of her husband’s purported evil manners that have instigated a debate on many a Facebook thread, they (Jun Magsaysay and Risa Hontiveros) are coming out too clean, seemingly perceived as devoid of enemies and therefore boring.
     Someone must hype up their having, like Anthony Bourdain, been jerks once. [END]

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